Group blasts feds after MIT issued warning over rabbit death

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Group blasts feds after MIT issued warning over rabbit death

By Marie Szaniszlo,, Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A national watchdog group is blasting federal regulators for letting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology off with a slap on the wrist after the horrific death of an animal in one of its research laboratories.

Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation NOW, which monitors animal research, had called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue MIT a $10,000 penalty — the maximum under the federal Animal Welfare Act — after a rabbit died when it was sent through a machine that cleans animal cages. But the USDA instead issued the school a warning, noting that any further violation could result in a civil penalty or criminal prosecution.

“We consider any incident where negligence kills an animal to be extremely egregious,” said SAEN Executive Director Michael Budkie. “An animal died because of this, and this was not a pleasant death; that animal was basically boiled alive. When something like this happens, (the school) should receive the highest penalty; otherwise the laws become meaningless.”

Tanya Espinosa, a USDA spokeswoman, said the agency took into account four factors: the size of the institution, the gravity of the violation, whether or not the regulated entity had shown good faith, and the history of previous violations.

In a Feb. 13 letter to the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, Maria T. Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research, said school officials agreed the incident “involved gross negligence and was inexcusable.” The technician responsible resigned on Jan. 31. And the school has put in place new protocols to prevent such incidents from happening again, MIT spokeswoman Kimberly Allen said. 

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